Skip to main content Help with accessibility

Folic acid in pregnancy

Does folic acid help you get pregnant?


Folic acid facts you need to know

Folic acid supports your baby’s earliest development, making it a key nutrient for your first trimester of pregnancy. Learn what it does, how much is recommended and which foods can help to increase your intake to reduce the risk of neural tube problems.

Folic acid – protecting your baby’s future health1

Even before you know you’re pregnant, folate, or folic acid in its manufactured form, is doing its job of supporting your baby’s development. It plays a significant role in the formation of your baby’s neural tube – the structure that forms in the first month of life that eventually becomes your baby’s spinal cord and brain.

Together, these will form your baby’s central nervous system, which will act as the control centre for your baby’s whole body, and provide the foundation for all future growth, development, and normal functioning later in life. Since there is a well-established relationship between maternal folic acid intake and development of the neural tube in the young foetus, it is easy to see why folic acid is one of the nutritional supplements that is strongly recommended during pregnancy.

An adequate intake of folic acid has been shown to reduce the risk of neural tube defects (NTDs) including spina bifida. This condition results from the spinal column not closing properly, leaving the spinal cord exposed and potentially causing developmental problems.

Although folate is present in many foods, it is difficult to get sufficient levels from your diet. Taking a daily supplement means you can be sure you’re getting the amount you need to support your growing baby.

Folic acid plays a significant role in your baby’s development from the very first month of life.

How much folic acid do I need during pregnancy?2

The Department of Health recommends that pregnant women should take a folic acid supplement of 400mcg (micrograms) per day. Ideally, it’s best to start while trying to conceive so that you have a healthy intake from the moment your pregnancy begins. You should continue to take it throughout the first trimester, which is when your baby’s neural tube develops, forms and closes.

Many prenatal multivitamins contain the recommended 400mcg of folic acid, or you can choose to take a separate one if you prefer. If you are on a lower income, you may qualify for free supplements through Healthy Start, a government-run initiative. Your midwife will be able to tell you more about this scheme.

”Although some foods provide folate (the food source of folic acid), the best way to ensure your recommended intake of 400mcg per day is to take a supplement.”

Some women are at higher risk of neural tube defects and may need to take more folic acid during their pregnancy to provide greater protection. Your doctor may recommend taking 5000mcg per day in the following circumstances:

  • If you or your partner have a neural tube defect
  • If there is any history of neural tube defects in your families
  • If you have had another pregnancy affected by neural tube defects
  • If you have diabetes
  • If you are taking medication for epilepsy

If you are in your first trimester and didn’t take folic acid before getting pregnant, don’t worry. Start taking it now and carry on until at least your 12th week.

Increase your intake with good sources of folate

Folate is the food source of folic acid. Good sources include:

  • Green, leafy vegetables
  • Brown rice
  • Granary bread
  • Fortified breakfast cereals

It’s worth noting that as a water-soluble nutrient, folate is sensitive to certain cooking methods, particularly boiling and stewing. If you’re boiling your vegetables they can lose up to 40% of their folate during the process, and stewing can cause an even greater loss of up to 80%. When preparing folate-rich vegetables, you can protect the nutritional content by steaming, blanching or baking them, or choosing to eat them raw. If you do boil them, aim to use the cooking water, either in a gravy or as a nutritional addition to soup3.

 (80g is the reccomended portion size for fruit and veg4)

Next Steps

If you haven’t reached your 12th week of pregnancy yet, make sure you are supplementing your diet with at least 400mcg of folic acid.

Increase your intake throughout pregnancy with the following folate-rich meals and snacks:

  • Lentil and chard curry with brown rice
  • Baked beans on granary toast
  • Roasted kale chips
  • Broccoli dipped in hummus

View references

Hide references

drop down arrow

1. NHS UK. Spina Bifida [Online]. 2012. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

2. NHS UK. Why do I need folic acid in pregnancy? [Online]. 2013. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

3. McCance and Widdowson. Composite of foods integrated dataset [Online]. 2002. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

4. NHS UK. 5 A DAY portion sizes - how much is a portion of fruit or veg? [Online]. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

5. Gov.UK. Nutrient analysis of fruit and vegetables [Online]. 2013. Available at: [Accessed June 2014]

Last reviewed: 18th August 2014

Discover nutrimum pregnancy bars

for pregnant women

One a day provides key nutrients, including 400µg Folic Acid, recommended by the UK Department of Health for all pregnant women, and is a delicious alternative to your pregnancy supplement.

Learn more
Prenatal vitamins & supplements supplements header

Vitamins & supplements for pregnancy

Is your supplement pregnancy-safe? Learn what to look for in prenatal vitamins and why food should be your main source of most nutrients.

Learn more
Superfoods for pregnancy blueberries header

Superfoods for pregnancy

Are superfoods really super? Learn what’s behind the name and which nutrient-dense foods are a healthy addition to your pregnancy diet.

Learn more

Join Aptaclub on Facebook

Like our Facebook page to join the thousands of mums-to-be and new mums who are discussing and sharing their experiences.


Aptaclub on Instagram

Follow us on Instagram for educational, inspirational posts celebrating your pregnancy and parenting journey.

Iron in pregnancy lentils pulses header

Iron supplements in pregnancy

Your body uses more iron during pregnancy. Learn why, and how to ensure a healthy intake.

Learn more
Pregnancy nutrients for a healthy future

Pregnancy nutrients for a healthy future

Your pregnancy diet has a profound impact on your baby’s health. Learn how some nutrients support your baby’s health long into the future.

Learn more
iodine fish header

Pregnancy nutrients: Iodine

Iodine is a vital nutrient for pregnancy and your baby’s brain development. Find out what it does, why it’s so important and how to get it.

Learn more
Pregnancy nutrients: Calcium

Pregnancy nutrients: Calcium

Had your daily calcium today? Learn which foods sources of this pregnancy essential and why it’s so important for your baby.

Learn more
Understanding LCPs: Omega 3 and 6 fish header

Omega 3 & 6: Fatty Acids in Pregnancy

Omega 3 and 6 support your baby’s developing brain and heart. Read about the other benefits of these LCPs and how to get a healthy balance.

Learn more

WhatsApp Welcome to Careline via WhatsApp

Our experts are available to chat Monday - Friday, 8am-8pm, excluding bank holidays.

By clicking start, you will open a new chat in your WhatsApp app with our Careline team.


Having trouble?

If you're having issues sending the Careline a message via WhatsApp, please try calling us on 0800 996 1000 instead.